Mashed potatoes are one of the essential side dishes of a Thanksgiving table or on a night when you’re you’re craving comfort food. We went on the hunt for the “perfect” mashed potato recipe and were astonished to find how many variations there were out there! Russet or yellow potatoes? Milk or cream? Sour cream? Cream cheese? Butter? Fluffy or creamy? The options were endless and, frankly, overwhelming. With Thanksgiving around the corner, we wanted to come up with a basic, ideal mashed potato recipe, or maybe better yet labeled, a guide.
This “recipe” was developed with the idea of a ratio in mind. If you start with 1 pound of potatoes, how much of each additional item should you add and how many servings does this get you? With that, you can scale it up and down to fit the size of your Thanksgiving table and always have a perfect dish of mashers. No more thinking or guess work required! Plus, this gives you the basics for a simple mashed potato recipe so you can add-in anything you like and adapt it to your own taste. But, if we should say so ourselves, this is just about perfect on its own.
For mashed potatoes, there are 4 essential components: the potato, the liquid, the fat, and the optional add-ins. Let’s go through these one by one.
These days, there are a lot of potato choices at the grocery store, so what’s the best type for mashed potatoes? After some testing, we found out that when you boil it down, there are two general types of potatoes: waxy and starchy. Some, like Russets and Idaho potatoes fall far on the starchy side of the spectrum while others like red potatoes and fingerlings are on the waxy end. Yukon golds are somewhere in the middle.
For mashers, you want to stick with starchier potatoes which break down easier when cooked and become thick and creamy when mashed. Waxy potatoes like red potatoes and fingerlings are great for roasting and potato salad but tend to hold their shape and texture a little too much for good mashed potatoes.
A lot of people like Yukon Golds for their strong “potato” flavor but when it comes to a basic, classic recipe, we’re going with the humble yet versatile Russet.
It breaks down wonderfully after boiling, stays creamy, and had a good yet mellow potato flavor. Leave the skin on if you like, or peel it off, it’s up to you. We prefer peeling so our mashed potatoes say pristine and white.
For this recipe, we’re going to start with 1 pound of peeled, cut Russet potatoes, which will end up in about 4 side dish size servings.
Cream, half & half, milk, and buttermilk are all worthy considerations but after much testing, we prefer a 50/50 combination of half & half and buttermilk. Half & half gives you the right amount of richness while buttermilk adds a nice tang. You could go with all heavy cream, but we found this to be too rich for our tastes. Milk, even when using whole, was too watery for our tastes. Oh, and this isn’t the time for watching your waistline. Low-fat or non-fat dairy won’t cut it here so stick to the full-fat stuff. You can have skim tomorrow.
For 1 pound of potatoes, you’ll want ½ cup of liquid.
The Good Stuff (aka The Fat)
Butter. There’s no replacement. Salted if you prefer but we stick to unsalted so we can control the salt content ourselves. There is such thing as too much butter (sorry Paula Deen) and our ratio is just the right amount that makes the mashed potatoes rich but not in a way that hides the true potato flavor.
For 1 pound of potatoes, you’ll want 4 tbsp unsalted butter.
Scallions, caramelized onions, cheese (Blue, Cheddar, Boursin, Goat, Feta, Neufchatel), bacon, cream cheese, sour cream…the list goes on! This recipe is the perfect base for whatever combination of additional add-ins you want. This is where you can really get creative. Some of our favorites are scallions for their sharp bite and caramelized onion for something sweet and luscious. Or, mix them together!
For 1 pound of potatoes, start with 2 tbsp. of your preferred add-in. You can always add more if you like or mix and match.
The Final, Perfect Ratio
So, after a full day of testing a few too many spoons of mashed potatoes, here’s what we’ve come up as our perfect mashed potatoes based on 1 pound of potatoes, which will serve 4 people as a nice side dish.
1 pound potatoes : 4 tbsp. butter : ½ cup liquid : 2 tbsp. add-ins
6 Secrets to Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Everyone has their little tips and trick on how to make the perfect mashers but we’ve put together a list of 6 simple things you can do to take your mashed potatoes from good to great. Some of these, like how to boil potatoes and adding hot liquid are more commonly known but there are a few in there that might surprise you (and actually work).
Cut and rinse potatoes before boiling. It helps wash off any excess starch which will keep the potatoes from getting gluey.
Start the potatoes in cold, generously salted water. This will help the potatoes cook evenly throughout and get flavored from the inside out.
Add melted butter instead of room temperature or cold butter. Melted butter won’t bring down the temperature of the potatoes and will distribute through the potatoes without overmixing.
Add the butter first, then the liquid. While the potatoes are hot, add the melted butter, mash to incorporate and coat the potatoes with butter, then add the hot liquid. This helps the butter coat and protect the starch granules from turning gluey before adding the liquid and mixing more.
Always add hot liquid to hot potatoes. Cold liquid will cause the temperature of the potatoes to suddenly drop and the starch granules will seize up. Heat whatever liquid you use to just under a simmer before adding.
- Stand mixer = ok. Food processor or blender = bad. If you’re going to use a machine to help you with the mashing, stick to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on low speed. This will break up the potatoes just enough. A food processor or blender is too powerful and will make the potatoes gluey and fluffy instead of thick and creamy.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 side dish servings
1 pound Russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup half & half
¼ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse the cut potatoes under cold water to remove any excess starch. Place into a large pot and cover with cold water by 2”. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes for us once the water is at a boil.
- While the potatoes are cooking, melt the butter in the microwave. Combine the half & half and buttermilk in a mug or bowl and heat in the microwave for 1 minute or until steaming. For larger quantities, melt the butter and heat the half & half and buttermilk on the stove on low heat until barely simmering.
- When the potatoes are done, pour into a colander to drain and return to the pot, allowing the steam to dry out any leftover water. Add the melted butter and mash gently with a potato masher to incorporate. Add the hot liquid, salt, and pepper and continue mashing by hand until it achieves a creamy consistency. Or, transfer to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, add the hot liquid, salt, and pepper into the bowl, and mix on low speed until creamy, about 30-60 seconds. Stir in any additional add-ins and serve.